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Why are you looking at me all suspicious like that, with those narrowed eyes and furrowed brow? Was it something The Business Press Maven said? Something I'm wearing?
Of all the business maxims ever uttered, most fall into the cornball, predictable category and are, in the world according to The Business Press Maven, useless rhetoric.
And then there is Andrew S. Grove, one of the geniuses who created
, who famously said that when it comes to business success, "only the paranoid survive."
Truer words were never spoken, and we see evidence that paranoia is alive and well in two quality companies today. If a certifiable level of paranoia is good enough for Grove, one of the few true geniuses of modern American business, it should be a guiding principle of most stock pickers.
(By the way, in a delicious turn to the tale of this aphorism, Grove fittingly got all paranoid in the preface to his book
Only the Paranoid Survive
about when or whether he actually uttered the phrase. He only knows it's true. "The things I tend to be paranoid about vary," he wrote, before listing everything from competitors to larger shifts in business trends.)
Some great operators are acting with a level of paranoia that seems lifted right from the pages of
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
. It is a good sign for stockholders in both companies.
has been one of the great success stories of the past generation, but newspapers are now
teeming with news of a Valentine's Day massacre memo released by company genius Howard Schultz.
Despite all the successful expansion and an addicted base of customers worldwide (addictive products are profitable products), Schultz seems to have a general feeling that the company is screwed because people can't smell coffee the same way they apparently used to.
But with apologies to The Kinks, this sort of paranoia won't destroy ya'. And it is much preferable to the sort of promotional nonsense that has officials at other companies believing their own blarney and emerging overconfident and reckless.
, which, as I
pointed out in January, has made a whole mess of mistakes in its quest to be able to pound its chests as No. 1 in car sales.
Any self-respecting paranoid wouldn't want the No. 1 ranking. It would bring the evil eye, and if it doesn't come with automatic prize money or even profits, why take the risk of unsettling those dark forces lurking there?
So never mind General Motors and its white-whale mission. How does a smart and paranoid company look at the issue?
says it all: "Why Toyota Is Afraid of Being Number One."
One of the company's in-house slogans is "Run scared." Nice. One might say that for a company that has done so well, that comment and a little bit of paperwork can get them into a laughing academy.
Perfectly paranoid. In investing, numbers are important, but words tell all. And I'll take a variant of "We're scared" to "We're No. 1, rah-rah" any day of the week.
Do you not agree? Is that why you are giving me that hairy eyeball? Stop it.
A shortage of paranoia is also the root of many mistakes of the business media. Look at this
story, for example, about the baby boomers aging. It blithely talks about what benefits there might be, and it rounds up all the usual suspects, like drugstore stocks. But what about the paranoid's take? Any challenges that will come about because of this huge demographic march toward the abyss?
As we have entered a generation-long turn during which real estate does not outperform inflation, it might bear mentioning that baby boomers in their homebuying age were, along with interest rates, the reason for a quarter-century of flukishly high real estate returns. The paranoid analysts know what comes now, as the boomers start to downsize: an endless bit of supply coming on the market, tamping down prices until it is time for The Business Press Maven to go to assisted living.
Speaking of paranoid, The Business Press Maven, as you know, has long thought that the volume of coverage given to the Big Three automakers was some sort of secret plot to prove that they were essential to the performance of the economy.
useless maxim in modern business, of course, is "As General Motors goes, so goes America."
Manufacturing is not central to the American economy, and the car companies are not central to manufacturing -- a point that heavily weighted coverage confuses, without spelling it out. Congratulations, then, to
The New York Times
, which tends to cover the auto companies circa a generation ago, but
got it right this weekend, in speaking of
"It is now a vestigial part of a sector of the economy -- manufacturing -- that does not loom as large in the nation's consciousness. 'It is a new world,' said Ron Pinelli, the president of Autodata in Woodcliff Lake, N.J., which tracks industry statistics. 'If Chrysler disappeared, would anyone's life change, except for the people that work for the company?'"
At the time of publication, Fuchs had no positions in any of the stocks mentioned in this column.
A journalist with a background on Wall Street, Marek Fuchs has written the County Lines column for The New York Times for the past five years. He also contributes regular breaking news and feature stories to many of the paper's other sections, including Metro, National and Sports. Fuchs was the editor-in-chief of Fertilemind.net, a financial Web site twice named "Best of the Web" by Forbes Magazine. He was also a stockbroker with Shearson Lehman Brothers in Manhattan and a money manager. He is currently writing a chapter for a book coming out in early 2007 on a really embarrassing subject. He lives in a loud house with three children. Fuchs appreciates your feedback;
to send him an email.